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The Nebraska attorney general filed the complaint on March 1.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

March 9, 2021

2 Min Read
Insecticide and fungicide treated corn seed.
ATTORNEY GENERAL COMPLAINT: The AltEn ethanol plant in Mead, Neb., originally was permitted to produce ethanol from normal field corn, but according to the Nebraska attorney general, it had been using discarded treated seed corn, resulting in environmental violations. PBouman/Getty Images

On March 1, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson filed a complaint in the District Court of Saunders County, alleging environmental violations by AltEn LLC, which operates an ethanol plant at Mead, Neb.

The complaint alleges violations of the Nebraska Environmental Protection Act (NEPA); violations of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Act; and multiple violations of permit conditions, including violations of an order from the director of the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.

The attorney general was joined in a press conference by Gov. Pete Ricketts and Jim Macy, director of NDEE, to discuss the court filing and to answer questions regarding concerns surrounding the Mead plant. 

In a statement received by Nebraska Farmer from AltEn on March 5 regarding the attorney general’s actions, the company said, “AltEn takes the lawsuit seriously. Regardless of the filing of the lawsuit though, AltEn desires to do what it can to cooperate with the State to the extent resources are available to address concerns properly. AltEn does not wish to litigate the pending claims in the press.”

AltEn originally was permitted to produce ethanol using field corn as its primary feedstock. The attorney general’s complaint alleges that AltEn was using discarded treated seed corn, rather than normal field corn, to produce ethanol. In 2019, the Department of Agriculture determined the treated seed corn produced distillers grains containing pesticides. Since then, AltEn has been prevented from land-applying the distillers grains as a soil conditioner.

The company’s alleged use of treated seed corn for ethanol production has also produced contaminated wastewater, according to a March 1 news release from the attorney general’s office. The release noted that on March 1, AltEn had significant stockpiles of contaminated distillers grains and was operating its three wastewater lagoons at improperly high levels.

NDEE has ordered AltEn to dispose of all of the contaminated distillers grains and address the contaminated wastewater. The complaint alleges AltEn failed to do so. The complaint also accuses AltEn of missing deadlines and failing to complete actions required by NDEE to fix the environmental problems at the facility.

The complaint filed by the attorney general seeks proper disposal of the contaminated byproducts (distillers grains and wastewater); compliance with state statutes, their permit conditions and the order of the director; and civil penalties (NEPA authorizes $10,000 per day per violation, subject to the court’s discretion).

NDEE created a webpage for updates related to cleanup and sampling activities at the AltEn plant at dee.ne.gov. The attorney general’s complaint and other NDEE press releases regarding AltEn can be accessed from that page.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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